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The picturesque town of Montgomery has just unveiled a plaque of 19th-century Hungarian poet, János Arany. So what's the connection? The answer is simple. The celebrated author of his time wrote a ballad titled ‘A walesi bárdok’ (The Bards of Wales) telling the story of 500 bards being executed by Edward I of England in 1277. These blood-filled rhymes still give Hungarian children’s nightmares as even today it’s compulsory to recite them at school.

The poem that first linked Hungary and Wales was written when Arany was asked to welcome Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, King of Hungary. The writer refused the invitation – instead he anonymously published the tale of 500 Welsh bards and Edward I of England who, according to legend, slaughtered the Welsh poets as they failed to praise him.

Originally, it was intended to be a disguised criticism of Franz Joseph, and his dictatorshipbut little did János Arany know how far it would go.

The Bards of Wales translated by Peter Zollman

King Edward scales the hills of Wales
Upon his stallion.
"Hear my decree! I want to see
My new dominion".

The new plaque has the brief story of the ballad in three languages, English, Hungarian and Welsh. It was given to Wales by Hungary in 2019, but now Covid postponed the unveiling.

The large-scale ceremony featured the Welsh and Hungarian anthems as well as a major musical show organised by opera singer Elizabeth Sillo, who runs the Welsh-Hungarian Cultural Association. They work closely together with Dorothy Singh from the Kodály Violin School, putting into practice the music methodology devised by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

Just as Wales is the 'Land of Songs' to the Welsh, Hungary is the same to Hungarians. Building on these strong artistic ties, Dorothy and Elizabeth have a joint mission to promote Hungarian and Welsh folk musical traditions in both countries.

There are annual concerts in the Hungarian village of Kunágota as well as in Cardiff. The English translation of Arany's poem was also adapted as a cantata by Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins.

“He calls at high Montgomery
To banquet and to rest;  
It falls on Lord Montgomery  
To entertain the guest:”  

“We don’t want it to be forgotten, from now on 14 May will be known as the Day of Welsh-Hungarian friendship, says Bálint Brunner, founder of the Magyar Cymru cultural initiative, a medium for publishing stories about Wales to Hungarians.

Hungarians have already started build on the momentum Arany started with his poem. In 2020, a video was sent to Wales featuring Magyars praising the culture and landscape of Wales. Then in January 2021, the town of Montgomery replied with a lovely short movie of their own, phrasing some of their message in Hungarian, also featured on Hungarian TV.

The unveiling ceremony was certainly not the last event together – it’s only the start of a thriving Hungarian-Welsh collaboration.


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